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Corvallis became the nexus for some of the most unusual twists and turns in the offseason coaching carousel. It started with long-time head coach Mike Riley bolting Oregon State for Nebraska and ended with the Beavers bringing in former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen to take over the program.
Andersen and his staff inherit an Oregon State team in full rebuild mode. The Beavers stumbled to a 5-7 finish in 2014 after losing six of their final seven games. Oregon State has enough pieces to work with on offense and defense to defy dismal preseason predictions. Andersen showed his capability for turning programs around during his stint at Utah State from 2009-12.
This marks the first meeting between Oregon State and Weber State and the Beavers will be heavy favorites. The Wildcats have won a total of six games over the last three seasons and are still a season or two away from being one of the better Big Sky Conference teams in FCS.
Weber State at Oregon State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback platoon
Andersen is bucking conventional wisdom by deploying two quarterbacks to run the Oregon State offense. Freshmen Seth Collins and Marcus McMaryion will both get snaps behind center and earn a chance to show they have the skills to succeed Sean Mannion. Both are dual-threat quarterbacks with big-play ability. Andersen noted there is zero separation between Collins and McMaryion coming out of fall camp. Both players should see plenty of time against Weber State and both will benefit from a veteran offensive line anchored by Outland and Lombardi Trophy candidate Isaac Seumalo.
2. Building a better defense
Aggressive hard-hitting defense could be a trademark for Oregon State in a short time. New defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake brings a track record of success to the Beavers. He oversaw a Utah defense in 2014 that led the nation in sacks and ranked among the top FBS teams in several other key categories. Sitake has some promising talent to work with in his first year. Jaswha James, in particular, should wreak havoc all over the field from his hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position. Justin Strong could enjoy a breakout season in the secondary after tallying 56 tackles as a nickel back in 2014.
3. Youthful Wildcats
Second-year coach Jay Hill, who coached with Andersen and Sitake at Utah, has committed to build Weber State without relying on tons of junior college transfers. That means the Wildcats have a roster filled with sophomores and juniors who will play big roles. Leading rusher Zach Smith returns after gaining 742 yards on 129 carries last season and the junior anchors a deep backfield in 2015. Cam Livingston is a capable threat at receiver after tallying 856 yards on 57 catches a year ago. Jadrian Clark enters the season as the starting quarterback after starting the final five games last fall.
Oregon State will likely struggle to finish above .500 in Andersen's first season, but the Beavers will be competitive with most teams. Beating a rebuilding Weber State squad should not be a problem. The Wildcats have not defeated an FBS opponent since beating Nevada 47-30 in 1993 and simply don't have enough talent to hang with Oregon State for four quarters.
Prediction: Oregon State 42, Weber State 14
— Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
For two years in a row now, Alabama's starting quarterback job has been hot topic No. 1 throughout August's preseason practices.
With Jake Coker, the guy many figure to get first crack under center this Saturday when No. 3 Alabama meets No. 20 Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, set to begin his final season at Alabama, there's a good possibility the Crimson Tide could be dealing with a third-straight starting quarterback quandary next fall.
Yes, it's beginning to feel like an annual preseason storyline now, but headline-making quarterback battles haven't always consumed Augusts in Tuscaloosa. In the post-Bear Bryant era, which began in 1983, there have been a number of seasons in which Alabama coaches, players and fans knew exactly who the guy under center would be when the season got under way.
And those other seasons? Yes, there have been several of those too during the post-Bear Bryant era — 2014 and 2015 being two of those. So where do Alabama's preseason quarterback battles of 2014 and 2015 rank among the other speculation-laden preseason quarterback battles that have taken place in Tuscaloosa since Alabama's legendary coach with the houndstooth hat called it a career?
Glad you asked.
Here's my top 10:
1. Andrew Zow vs. Tyler Watts, 2001
As far as preseason Alabama quarterback battles in the post-Bear Bryant era, the most hotly-contested, most heavily-debated, most scrutinized and the one most filled with mystery and speculation has to be the Tyler Watts-Andrew Zow duel in 2001. First-year Alabama coach Dennis Franchione apparently made his pick during fall camp, but the former TCU head man was completely tight-lipped about it, fueling all sorts of predictions among Bama fans, most of whom had sided with one or the other of the two passers. The drama stretched right on up to kickoff of the season-opener against UCLA at Bryant-Denny Stadium and finally ended when Watts trotted out for Alabama's first offensive series against the Bruins.
2. AJ McCarron vs. Phillip Sims, 2011
Both AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims were big-time, highly recruited QBs when they signed with Alabama, and when Greg McElroy finished his career at the Capstone following the 2010 season, the battle — and the debate — between McCarron and Sims was on. The competition between the two candidates was extremely tight. Even multiple weeks of fall camp couldn't separate the two in the eyes of Nick Saban and his coaching staff. It wasn't until both guys had the chance to perform in the season opener that McCarron inched ahead and seized the job.
3. Blake Sims vs. Jake Coker, 2014
All the early signs pointed to Florida State transfer and super-hyped Jake Coker winning the Alabama quarterback job for the 2014 season, but Blake Sims, who looked unimpressive in the spring, upped his game during Bama's 2014 fall camp and surprised everyone by beating out Coker. Sims went on to prove his fall camp emergence was no fluke, leading Alabama to an SEC championship and a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoffs.
4. Jake Coker vs. Cooper Bateman vs. Alec Morris, 2015
For the second year in a row, Jake Coker found himself entrenched in a highly publicized, intensely speculative quarterback battle throughout fall camp in 2015. This time his primary challengers were the highly athletic Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris, who probably had the best grasp of the Alabama offense. Morris seemed to gain a little momentum for the job midway through camp, but Coker seemed to be back in the lead, slightly ahead of the surging Bateman, by the close of camp.
5. Jay Barker vs. Brian Burgdorf, 1994
A late-season knee injury shelved starting QB Jay Barker near the end of the '93 season, and when his backup, Brian Burgdorf, turned in an MVP performance in the 1993 Gator Bowl, the debate on who should be Bama's signal-caller in '94 heated up. In fall camp, Barker, who hadn't exactly wowed fans with his play up to this point in his career, ultimately held off Burgdorf to remain Bama's starting quarterback heading into the '94 season. Barker went on to prove Gene Stallings made the right choice at QB by turning in a senior season to remember. The Trussville native finished fifth in Heisman balloting in '94 and earned the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation's top senior quarterback.
6. Greg McElroy vs. Star Jackson, 2009
Greg McElroy came out of the spring with the lead, but many expected redshirt freshman Star Jackson, a prized prospect when he signed with the Tide in '08, to potentially overtake McElroy during fall camp. That never happened. McElroy, despite being viewed as less physically talented than Jackson, held on to the job, went into the season as the clear starter and proceeded to lead the Tide to its first national championship in 17 years.
7. David Smith vs. Jeff Dunn vs. Vince Sutton, 1988
Jeff Dunn went into spring drills with the lead at quarterback but an injury to both him and fellow QB challenger Vince Sutton allowed David Smith, who had started some in '87, to get more reps in the spring. All three guys, all of whom had seen action in '87, seemed to be in the picture when Bama's '88 fall camp opened, but Smith, the less heralded of the three and a former walk-on, eventually secured the job.
8. Mike Shula vs. Vince Sutton vs. Hugh Smith vs. Gene Newberry vs. Paul Fields, 1984
Mike Shula had the lead in the spring, but when he went down with a broken leg during spring drills that opened the door for several other candidates. Highly touted freshman Vince Sutton turned out to be Shula's primary competition, and both guys ended up sharing time under center during the '84 season.
9. Mike Shula vs. Vince Sutton vs. Gene Newberry, 1985
Vince Sutton, who had seen a good bit of action in '84, and promising passer Gene Newberry were still in the quarterback picture when the Tide opened fall camp in '85, but Shula, who had also gained a lot of valuable playing experience in '84, held on to the No. 1 spot going into the season. The son of the NFL coaching legend solidified his job by leading the Tide to a dramatic, come-from-behind win over Georgia in the season-opener.
10. Danny Woodson vs. Jay Barker, 1991
Senior Danny Woodson and redshirt freshman Jay Barker were Alabama's leading quarterback candidates heading into the Tide's '91 fall camp, but there was no clear-cut favorite between the two. Woodson eventually got the nod over Barker to start the season, but Barker would eventually take the reins late in the regular season, beginning with the LSU game, after Woodson got suspended.
— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.
Each college football season starts off with less of a bang and more of a slow burn, with ranked teams rarely playing each other and few surprises. The only matchup between two ranked teams this weekend is when No. 3 Alabama faces No. 20 Wisconsin at Cowboys Stadium in the Advocare Classic (formerly the Cowboys Classic). This is just one of many efforts over the past four decades to bring a “bowl game” feel to the beginning of the college football season.
The first and longest-running of these efforts was the Kickoff Classic, which launched in 1983 at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, when defending national champion Penn State faced No. 1 Nebraska and was trounced 44-6. This occurred during the era of 11-game seasons, but the NCAA allowed teams to play a 12th game if they played in a Kickoff Classic-type game, whose legion would grow to include the Pigskin Classic, the Eddie Robinson Classic and the John Thompson Foundation Classic.
In 2002, the NCAA outlawed 12th games, thus bringing these traditions to an end. Ironically, the NCAA added a 12th game to the college football season in 2005 and since then a new breed of “Kickoff” games have emerged.
Make no mistake; these games are akin to bowl games. Some, like the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and the Advocare Classic, are annual and others, like the Allstate Kickoff in the Capitol, are one-off deals. The benefits are a potentially large payout to participating schools and national exposure albeit good or bad. The sacrifice is a home game. And like bowl games, these contests rarely live up to their hype. Here are five that did.
5. Brigham Young 14, Oklahoma 13
Sept. 5, 2009 in Arlington, Texas (Cowboys Classic)
Returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford began his junior year facing a formidable pass rush from BYU behind an experienced offensive line. In the second quarter, Bradford had just broken Jason White’s school career passing yards record and was leading OU down the field to break a 7-7 tie when Coleby Clawson nailed him with a clean shot, spraining the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. The Sooners held a 13-7 lead in the fourth quarter when BYU quarterback Max Hall hit McKay Jacobson to give the Cougars a 14-13 lead. A failed 54-yard field goal attempt by OU solidified the win and the 2009 season began with a major upset.
4. Miami 20, Auburn 18
Aug. 27, 1984 in East Rutherford, N.J (Kickoff Classic)
In Jimmy Johnson’s first game as Miami head coach, the defending national champion Hurricanes faced #1 Auburn. The game may not have been close if Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar had not thrown an interception and the ‘Canes failed on a pair of fourth downs both within the Tigers’ 15-yard. Nevertheless, Auburn led 15-14 in the third quarter, but Miami kicker Greg Cox nailed two field goals in the fourth to put the Hurricanes ahead. The win was sealed when Auburn halfback Brent Fullwood fumbled a pitch that was recovered by Julio Cortes.
3. LSU 28, Wisconsin 24
Aug. 30, 2014 in Houston, Texas (Texas Kickoff)
The Badgers held LSU to six first downs in the first half of the game and led 24-7 in the third quarter. Then the Tigers came to life with a pair of field goals at the end of the third quarter. Early in the fourth, LSU quarterback hit John Diarse with a 36-yard touchdown pass and then completed another to Trey Quinn for the two-point conversion. With 11 minutes left, Jalen Mills intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy’s pass at the LSU 47. Kenny Hilliard capped the comeback with a 28-yard touchdown run.
2. Colorado 31, Tennessee 31
Aug. 26, 1990 in Anaheim, Calif (Pigskin Classic)
The first Pigskin Classic started off sloppy but Colorado overcame three turnovers to lead the Vols 24-10 early in the fourth quarter. However, Tennessee quarterback Andy Kelly responded in the fourth quarter with touchdown passes to Alvin Harper and Carl Pickens. Colorado answered but Tennessee tailback Chuck Webb ran into the end zone with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter to make the score 31-30. The Vols head coach Johnny Majors chose to tie it up and opted for the extra point. Tennessee got the ball back late and surprised the Buffaloes with a ground attack, but the Vols ran out of time on Colorado’s 16-yard line. The contest ended with the only tie in kickoff game history.
1. Boise State 33, Virginia Tech 30
Sept. 6, 2010 in Landover, Md. (Allstate Kickoff in the Capitol)
The college fantasy football season is upn us! Are you ready?
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DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket. These are the guys poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week.
Below, you will find AthlonSports.com contributor and CFG writer Todd DeVries' top picks for the early Saturday games. To see the full in-depth article, be sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com.
Dane Evans, Tulsa ($6700) vs. FAU
Evans could be a break out star in 2015 under new head coach, Philip Montgomery. He will be playing in a pass heavy offense and will be facing an FAU pass defense that ranked 87th in 2014. He has a stud WR in Keevan Lucas and could easily top the 300-yard mark on opening night. Expect plenty of points from Evans and the Tulsa offense.
Roc Thomas, Auburn ($4300) vs. Louisville
Thomas has been embroiled in a heated battle for the starting RB job and appears to have come out on top for the opening week. He could be overlooked because of the competition and the match up, which is exactly why he is a true “sneaky” play. Roc comes in at a really low price and could pay big dividends for DFS players in Week One.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford ($4800) vs. Northwestern
McCaffrey is an electric playmaker that is expected to be the cornerstone of the Stanford offense in 2015. He is an excellent receiving option out of the backfield which really helps his value on Draft Kings. This Cardinal could have a huge game against a potentially overmatched Northwestern defense and should exceed his low price tag in Week One.
Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska ($3900) vs. BYU
Westerkamp should play a huge role in the revamped Huskers passing game with De’Mornay Pearson-El being sidelined for up to 6 weeks with an injury. He has an incredible match up against a BYU pass defense that ranked 114th in 2014 and gives up plenty of big plays. Look for this Husker to easily exceed value in what could be a very high scoring affair.
Robbie Anderson, Temple ($3000) vs. Penn State
Anderson had 791 yards and nine touchdowns in the last nine games of 2013, but missed last year because of academic issues. He is back with the Owls and should immediately be the top target for PJ Walker. He could be forgotten about and have an extremely low ownership percentage against the Nittany Lions. He looks to be a steal at this price point.
— Written by Todd DeVries, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A pioneer of online college fantasy football strategy and advice, DeVries is the founder of CollegeFootballGeek.com and founder and Director of Writer Development for Football Nation. Follow him on Twitter @CFFGeek.
It's our first college football Saturday of the year as we dive into our selections. A reminder that you should only wager what you could afford to potentially lose and that I'm never going to go 100 percent. Handicappers should range around 55-60 percent to be considered successful and that all the good ones have losing streaks. That said, we will dip our toes in for the first week as there's no need to go hog wild when there's a full season to go.
Virginia (0-0) at UCLA (0-0)
The scene shifts to Westwood as Virginia takes on UCLA. Last year the Bruins struggled in Charlottesville on their way to a 28-20 victory in which there were multiple defensive touchdowns. This year's UCLA offense is led by freshman Josh Rosen who is highly touted, but may struggle against a Jon Tenuta-led defense. The Wahoos have a very good secondary. What they don't have is a very good offense, especially without T.J. Thorpe at WR. The Tar Heel transfer is out for this one so it weakens a WR corps that wasn't great to begin with. Any discussion of UCLA's defense begins and ends with Myles Jack, one of the best linebackers in the country. The Bruins have gone under in 13 of their last 20 Saturday games and 15 of their last 26 overall. This one should go under the total. SELECTION: Under 54
Louisiana Monroe (0-0) at Georgia (0-0)
Greyson Lambert gets the call under center for Georgia for the opener. It really doesn't matter who is the starting QB as long as they know to hand it off to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The Bulldogs will have one of the best running games in the country. ULM has a very good defense which returns eight starters from the 57th-ranked unit. ULM held LSU to 31 points last year in a 31-0 loss to the Tigers. The problem with the Warhawks is their lack of offense, which returns just five starters. They will find it hard to move the ball against UGA in this one. ULM has played 15 unders in their last 24 games with 13 of their last 21 unders coming on a Saturday. SELECTION: Under 54
Arkansas State (0-0) at USC (0-0)
Arkansas State is one of the favorites in the Sun Belt. The Red Wolves return nine starters from an offense that put up almost 37 points per game. They are led by Fredi Knighten, Michael Gordon and J.D. McKissic. ASU's downfall was on the defensive side of the ball where they gave up 30.5 points per contest. USC, meanwhile, features Heisman Trophy sleeper Cody Kessler under center. This represents a good time for him to start putting up numbers to keep him in the mix. JuJu Smith leads the way at WR while the Trojans' defense tries to replace Leonard Williams. The Red Wolves have played 15 overs in their last 26 contests. This one should be a bit of a shootout with USC providing a boat load of the points. SELECTION: Over 66
Norfolk State (0-0) at Rutgers (0-0)
The Scarlet Knights enter year two in the Big Ten with a lot more questions then they had in year one. Rutgers has just three returning starters on the offensive side of the ball and will be without Leonte Carroo for a half for this one. Normally, you'd be concerned with a quarterback leaving a program a month before the season, but Norfolk State replaces Terrance Ervin with Florida Atlantic transfer Greg Hankerson. The Spartans return 15 starters from a pretty good FCS defense. Latrell Scott is a solid head coach. Last year, Rutgers beat Howard 38-25 at home to open up their season. This is a lot of points for them to cover so we'll take the underdog. SELECTION: Norfolk State +38
Colgate (0-0) at Navy (0-0)
It's a new era for Navy as they begin their time in the AAC with a non-conference affair on Saturday. Keenan Reynolds is back and that instantly makes the Middies a threat on offense. Reynolds has 64 career rushing touchdowns and he has Chris Swain, DeBrandon Sanders and Jamir Tillman back with him. The problem will come on the defensive side of the ball where Navy sustained several key losses including Parrish Gaines, an underrated safety. Colgate started out 4-3 last year before losing its quarterback and four of its last five games. Jake Melville put up some good stats in those seven games he played and he has John Quazza back along with several other passing options. The Raiders are replacing three of the team's top four tacklers so they may struggle with the Naval Academy's option. This is a unit that allowed 45 points to Yale, 37 to Fordham and 30 to Lehigh. SELECTION: Navy/Colgate Over 47
Maine (0-0) at Boston College (0-0)
It's a rematch of last year's BC 40-10 win over Maine. Boston College returns just three starters and is breaking in Darius Wade at quarterback. The Eagles figure to be ground and pound once again, which will play into Maine's defensive strength. This is a Black Bears team that held New Hampshire and Richmond to just 20 points each. Both teams had better offenses then BC does this season. Last year BC was led by Tyler Murphy at quarterback. This year, I think both teams play it close to the vest and struggle to score. SELECTION: Maine/BC Under 46
Savannah State (0-0) at Colorado State (0-0)
This one's going to get ugly. The Tigers have been cannon fodder for FBS opponents the last few years. In 2014, MTSU beat Savannah State 61-7 while BYU picked up a 64-0 victory. Go back one more season and the Tigers lost 66-3 to Troy and 77-7 to Miami. It should be noted that year that they also fell to Georgia Southern 77-9 the year before the Eagles joined the FBS ranks. Colorado State has 15 starters returning and will be breaking in a new QB in Nick Stevens. He's got Rashard Higgins out wide and he's one of the most underrated WRs in the country. This one will get ugly so take the Rams to roll. SELECTION: Colorado State -49
Florida A&M (0-0) at South Florida (0-0)
The Rattlers may not be the sexiest team to play on Saturday but neither is USF. FAMU has posted back-to-back 3-9 seasons, but return a lot of talent. They are going to be running a no-huddle offense with several transfers from Iowa State coming over to help. On defense Akil Blount leads a group that will have to hone in on Marlon Mack and the Bulls' running game. Last year this team struggled to a 36-31 home win over Western Carolina to open up the season. USF scored more then 20 points just twice. I think this one is a slam dunk for the road team to cover. SELECTION: Florida A&M +28
Alabama A&M (0-0) at Cincinnati (0-0)
This one is going to be an ugly contest on Saturday. The Bearcats are led by Gunner Kiel, who put up some good stats last season and has a lot of weapons back again this season. Alabama A&M allowed around five touchdowns per game last year to lesser competition. Cincinnati's defense can be a bit leaky themselves so a late touchdown by the Bulldogs will help push this one over the total. SELECTION: Over 57.5
* Penn State and Temple play in one of the more underrated games of the day. The Owls are considered to be sleepers across the country and have a defense that doesn't get a lot of publicity despite very good statistics. Tyler Matakevich made 117 tackles last year for a unit that was ranked fourth overall in scoring defense. Their game in Happy Valley was 6-3 at halftime in favor of the Nittany Lions. Christian Hackenberg is a very good quarterback, but could struggle if the O-line isn't better then it was last year. The under in this one was definitely a consideration.
* Southern Miss gets a chance to put themselves on the map as Mississippi State comes to town. Ironically, this is a matchup between two of the schools who showed up in my season win total article. I'm a fan of the Golden Eagles and think they keep this one closer then expected. The one thing that kept me from making this an official play is that their defense will need time to grow. While I don't believe in Mississippi State, the Bulldogs should be able to move the ball in this contest.
* Another close unofficial play was the over in the Ole Miss/UT-Martin game. The Rebels are breaking in Chad Kelly at quarterback and he'll be able to throw to Laquon Treadwell, who is back after a gruesome injury last season. The Skyhawks got blown out in both of their SEC games last year, but return a bunch of starters from an offense that scored more then 20 points in eight games in 2014. Because Ole Miss will be looking to get Kelly work, he may not leave early in a blowout.
* Keep your eye on Youngstown State potentially in the matchup with Pittsburgh. Bo Pelini leads the Penguins against a Panthers team that will be without several starters including a All-ACC WR Tyler Boyd. The team suspended him for this contest. Pitt also will be without projected starter Rori Blair as well as an offensive line that is really banged up. YSU beat Pittsburgh in 2012 and won't be too afraid in this one.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – He’s only two years into his tenure, but Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm is amid one of the craziest stretches of his football career.
And considering he played in the defunct XFL, that’s a statement.
Going back to the final two games of 2014, the Hilltoppers have won three consecutive games decided on two-point plays. First, they won on a two-point play they called in overtime — before they were required to by rule — to beat then-undefeated Marshall 67-66. Then, they stopped Central Michigan on a two-point play, one of the few big stops in a shootout in a 49-48 bowl win.
The opener against Vanderbilt was the third flavor in this Neapolitan variety pack of finishes decided on two-point conversions. Western Kentucky managed to win a defensive struggle with Vanderbilt as a former running back tackled Vanderbilt’s tight end a yard short of the goal line to preserve a 14-12 win.
The title of the most on-edge team continues for another season, and at least for September, that sets up for a wild month for the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky’s next game is against Louisiana Tech, the only team last season that truly limited Brandon Doughty, who led the nation in passing yards and passing touchdowns. And nine days after that, Western Kentucky plays Indiana, an up-tempo offensive team with a questionable defense.
“I think with our schedule this year, we may have every game like that,” Brohm said. “We’re not much better than other teams, and they’re not much better than us.”
And with Western Kentucky’s two-point conversion history, maybe that’s why the Hilltoppers knew what was coming from Vanderbilt on its last-ditch effort.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason fired both coordinators before this season, and installed himself as defensive play-caller. That seemed to work for most of the game as Vanderbilt held Western Kentucky without a touchdown for the first three quarters. The Hilltoppers had only 85 yards on their first 36 plays. They had 139 yards and two touchdowns on their next 11.
The offense, though, couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Quarterback Johnny McCrary threw two interceptions in the end zone, and a third red zone opportunity came up empty with a missed 28-yard field goal.
The final play was either a sign of preparation and composure from the Western Kentucky sideline or a sign of predictability from the Vanderbilt sideline.
The Commodores brought in former Wisconsin/San Diego State/Cal/Utah/Oregon/Fresno State coordinator Andy Ludwig to run the offense, and although he’d never called a play for Vanderbilt before Thursday, Western Kentucky knew what was coming with the game on the line.
McCrary passed to 6-5, 240-pound tight end Nathan Marcus in the flat short of the goal line. Converted running back Joe Brown, at 5-10, 190 pounds, brought him down by the legs just short of tying the game with 33 seconds left.
“They ran the exact play that offensive coordinator has run for years for two-point conversions and we had the perfect call sitting right on the flats,” said Western Kentucky linebacker Nick Holt, the son of the Hilltoppers’ defensive coordinator of the same name. “They like crossers expecting man coverage and we sat right on it. Joe Brown had a heck of a play cutting down a big, strong physical receiver.
“Offensive coaches have about 2-3-4 plays they like to run in those situations. We study that and we pick our calls depending on what formation they line up in and try and guess what they’re going to try and do.”
Western Kentucky’s opener didn’t bring the expected fireworks, scoring only 14 points after the Hilltoppers averaged 53 points over the final four last season. That’s fine.
The game still came down to a two-point conversion in which a 5-10 sophomore who played running back a year ago had to take down a 6-5 tight end in the open field.
The two-point plays might be predictable. The way Western Kentucky is finishing games these days is not.
“It’s a little old on me," Brohm said, "but fans like to watch it.”
Sure it's only the preseason, but exciting plays still happen.
In Thursday's preseason game between the Lions and the Bills, Merrill Noel blasted a one of the Lions and popped the ball loose. That's when cornerback Ron Brooks came along and took and back 81 yards for a pick-six.
Football is back! pic.twitter.com/l0Pyy80lBW— Football Replays (@FBReplays) September 4, 2015
Even for the preseason, that pick-six was still nice.
Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium is one of college football’s oldest playing venues, and after a year away due to renovations, the Bearcats are set to return to campus in 2015. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati and Under Armour unveiled a new alternate uniform on Thursday.
The red jerseys aren't drastically different, but the helmets are unique.
Needless to say, these are pretty interesting:
Who knew Heisman winners had such sense of humors?
Former Heisman winners like Eddie George, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Sam Bradford, Marcus Mariota, and more take part in the "Heisman House" for Nissan. The results are hilarious.
When Danny McManus arrived at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium on Sept. 7, 1985, the then-sophomore Florida State quarterback allowed himself to soak up the scene.
There was Tom Osborne, in the flesh. McManus, who grew up in Hollywood, Fla., saw plenty of the Nebraska coach on trips to the Orange Bowl.
“You just remember the sea of red and then our pocket of garnet and gold in the end zone,” McManus (right) said. “And those were the people who came on the flight with us.”
By the end of that hot September day, Florida State pulled off one of the most rare feats in college football — forcing Nebraska to start a season 0–1.
McManus and Florida State defeated Nebraska 17–13 on that day. It’s also the last time Nebraska lost a season opener. The Cornhuskers’ season-opening win streak, the longest active streak in the country, could turn 30 this season.
Nebraska opens the season against BYU, a seven-point underdog. In other words, Nebraska’s season-opening win streak is in danger of ending for the first time since 2003 when the Huskers defeated a ranked Oklahoma State team 17–7.
Incidentally, McManus, the last quarterback to beat Nebraska in a season opener, has ties to new Huskers coach Mike Riley. McManus, now an assistant general manager for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, played his first season of a Canadian Football Hall of Fame career under Riley for the Blue Bombers in 1990.
At the time of the Florida State-Nebraska matchup in 1985, though, neither McManus nor the Seminoles had approached a high level of fame.
Florida State at that point had been to the Orange Bowl twice under Bobby Bowden — both losses — but the Seminoles wouldn’t win their first national championship for another eight years. Nebraska, meanwhile, was near the height of their powers.
Defeating a top-10 Nebraska team on the road to start the 1985 season was a key step in Florida State’s ascent to becoming a national power in the 90s and beyond.
“To be able match up with Nebraska and stay in toe to toe and to be able to punch over enough points to finish the game, it was huge,” McManus said.
To start, though, going toe-to-toe with Nebraska wasn’t a sure thing. Fullback Tom Rathman, now the running backs coach with the San Francisco 49ers, reeled off a 60-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game.
“I remember looking at their offensive and defensive line and thinking we don’t have a chance,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who was then a first-year volunteer assistant with Florida State. “That’s a big strong corn-fed line. But we found a way to win.”
Nebraska did its part to help Florida State, completing only 3-of-14 passes for 40 yards with an interception. The Cornhuskers turned the ball over three times. A low snap on a punt set up Florida State running back Cletis Jones for what would become the game-winning touchdown in the second quarter.
Nebraska outgained Florida State 412-290 that day, but the Seminoles were able to hold the stalemate — and the four-point lead — throughout the second half.
Maybe Florida State had the advantage of playing a week earlier, a 38-12 win at Tulane. Maybe Florida State was just more used to the conditions in Lincoln.
Former Florida State center Jamie Dukes doesn’t remember setting any blocks for Jones or anyone else in that game, but the All-American and nine-year NFL veteran remembers the heat.
Memorial Stadium then had artificial turf, sending the on-field temperature soaring to 132 degrees, then a record for a game at Nebraska.
“It was just unbelievable,” said Dukes, now an analyst for the NFL Network and a radio host in Atlanta. “We were taking our shoes and stepping into buckets of ice water just to cool them down. It was an unbelievably hot day.”
Thirty years later, the carpet turf has long since been replaced. Osborne and Bowden have retired. Pro careers have come and gone for the players in that game.
Nebraska eventually got revenge for its season-opening loss to Florida State. The following year, the Cornhuskers defeated then No. 11 FSU 34–17 in 1986 to start the current season-opening win streak.
McManus will be rooting for Nebraska’s streak to hit 30, not just because it means his old coach will start 1–0 with the Huskers, but also because it gives him a little piece of college football history.
“I’ll be rooting for coach Riley,” McManus said. “Got to keep that streak going.”
|Nebraska's Season Openers since 1986|
|1986||No. 11 Florida State||34-17||2001||TCU (N)||21-7|
|1987||Utah State||56-12||2002||Arizona State (N)||48-10|
|1988||No. 10 Texas A&M (N)||23-14||2003||No. 24 Oklahoma State||17-7|
|1989||Northern Illinois||48-17||2004||Western Illinois||56-17|
|1991||Utah State||59-28||2006||Louisiana Tech||49-10|
|1993||North Texas||76-14||2008||Western Michigan||47-24|
|1994||No. 24 West Virginia (N)||31-0||2009||FAU||49-3|
|1995||at Oklahoma State||64-21||2010||Western Kentucky||49-10|
|1998||Louisiana Tech (N)||56-27||2013||Wyoming||37-34|
|2000||San Jose State||49-13||2015||BYU||???|
(N) indicates neutral site game
A new era of SMU football starts this season as former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris takes off as head coach of the Mustangs. On the other hand, Baylor head coach Art Briles returns a roster filled with playmakers from last season that couldn’t have been closer to making the inaugural College Football Playoff. While both coaches are in two different situations — Briles attempting to continue Baylor’s dominance and Morris trying to rebuild a program — they have one thing in common. Both have something to prove.
Baylor at SMU
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Baylor -36
Three Things to Watch
1. Baylor Offense vs SMU Defense
Yes, I know it seems this may be funny but SMU has a new defensive coordinator, Van Malone. Malone was the former cornerbacks coach at Oklahoma State and has switched the Mustangs defense to a 4-2-5 scheme. This would normally force offenses to find productivity on the ground. However, you just aren’t going to force Art Briles to do anything. It will be interesting to watch new Baylor starting quarterback Seth Russell face off against a defense that, although has holes to fill, will be daring him to pass.
2. SMU Offense
Don’t look for SMU to put up a lot of points against a Baylor defense that is arguably among the top in the Big 12. Do, however, pay attention to the new offensive scheme. The Mustangs will be running a fast tempo, no huddle, spread offense. With plenty of experience and speed in the backfield they should be able to at least sustain some drives. This will be a good test for SMU as every opponent after Baylor will seem easy in comparison.
3. Can Seth Russell Fill Bryce Petty’s Shoes
Russell will be making his second career start when he takes the field against SMU. While most are familiar with his style of play and ability, there is an added element being the starter of the 4th ranked team in the nation. Can Bears fans expect to see the same productivity they are now accustomed to seeing? Petty led the Baylor offense to an average of 48.2 points per game and 581.5 yards per game. This particular game should be able to showcase all of Russell’s abilities as the Bears offense ought to simply be able to move at will.
Baylor has been criticized for their inability to schedule stronger non-conference games. Opening the season against a team that finished 1-11 last season won’t change that criticism. However, SMU will present a good warm up for the Bears with Big 12 Conference play just a month away. The Mustangs will run offensive as well as defensive schemes the Bears will see again once they get into the meat of their schedule.
As far as the outcome, this simply should not be a test for the Bears. While many are waiting to see how Seth Russell controls the offense and the speed of KD Cannon, you better pay attention early. You can expect most starters to be sitting later in the game, unless of course head coach Art Briles is still holding a grudge after last season and is looking to make a statement. Then this could be something Mustang fans will want to forget immediately.
Prediction: Baylor 56, SMU 14
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
The big new NFL news of the week is undoubtedly Tom Brady's four-game suspension being vacated by a federal judge. But what the's fantasy impact you ask? Not that much in my opinion, as Brady moves up just one spot, from No. 13 to 12, in my quarterback rankings. While Brady does pass Cam Newton, whose value has taken a hit because of the loss of No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, I also have similar concerns about Brady's group of pass catchers. Yes, he has all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, but outside of Julian Edelman, who's dealing with a leg injury that could keep him out of the season opener, there are plenty of question marks. So even though Brady now has the opportunity to play all 16 games, there are 11 other QBs I would rather have on my fantasy team than him.
Fantasy Football 2015 Quarterback Rankings
(Updated Sept. 3)
For the most part, tight ends have been relatively spared from the rash of injuries that have already impacted the running back and wide receiver positions as it relates to fantasy football rankings. Travis Kelce put a scare into his owners (and Chiefs fans) when he left practice earlier this week with an apparent leg injury. Fortunately, it was later classified as a sprained ankle and head coach Andy Reid went so far as to say if this was the regular season, he probably would have been able to play. But instead, Kansas City will wisely hold Kelce out of their final preseason game for precaution so you should be able to continue to draft Kelce as a top-five TE.
Fantasy Football 2015 Tight End Rankings
(Updated Sept. 3)
Just one more week of NFL preseason action and for the most part, fantasy owners can breathe a sigh of relief. The vast majority of starters won't even suit up for the final preseason game, so from here out it's all about injuries (Randall Cobb AC joint sprain in shoulder could have been worse), surprising cuts (Fred Jackson) and other developments (Washington, Buffalo going different directions with Week 1 starting QB) that will impact draft boards the most. There are still plenty of depth charts that need to be sorted out, but by and large there are no major shakes up rankings-wise, and that's a good thing.
Fantasy Football 2015: Preseason Top 200
(Updated Sept. 3)
Michigan State travels to Kalamazoo in order to fulfill its end of the "3 for 1" contract with Western Michigan. The stadium is already sold out. However, one might wonder how many of those in attendance will be wearing green and white, not brown and gold.
A significant portion of players for Western Michigan have already faced Michigan State. Two years ago, the Broncos' offense actually outscored the Spartans' offense in Spartan Stadium. An interception in the first quarter and a fumble in the fourth, both returned for touchdowns, gave the victory to Michigan State. Those Broncos who remain on the squad from that game could feel like they have a shot at redemption, this time on their home field.
Michigan State Spartans at Western Michigan Broncos
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Michigan State -19
Three Things to Watch
1. Plugging in New Parts into the Rushing Game
The Spartans lost their top two leading rushers, Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill, from last season. The replacements, Delton Williams and R.J. Shelton, combined for less than a third of Langford's total rushing attempts, yards gained and touchdowns and less than Hill's number in all three categories. Can one or both adapt to an increase in playing time and contribute numbers close to the leaders' from last season? Is L.J. Scott ready to see a significant number of snaps despite his freshman status? Connor Cook and the rest of the offense need to have a dependable running back to hammer away at defenses, as has been the case in each of the past two highly successful seasons.
2. Broncos' wide receivers versus Spartans' defensive backs
Michigan State's secondary is by far the weakest third of the defense, mostly due to inexperience. Darian Hicks will miss the game because of mononucleosis. Four other defensive backs each played in 13 games last season. However, none recorded more than 31 tackles, two interceptions or two passes defensed during the season. Only one member, R.J. Williamson, has more than three starts in his college career.
In contrast, Western Michigan has two junior receivers on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the top receiver in college football. One of the two, Corey Davis, had the most receiving yards (1,408 to be exact) in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and seventh most in FBS last season. He also had 15 touchdowns, tied for third most nationally in 2014. The other receiver, Daniel Braverman, was recognized as third team All-MAC last year. Additionally, junior quarterback Zach Terrell made the 2015 watch list for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award after being chosen for the All-MAC second team last season.
3. Questions of Motivation
Forty-eight players on Western Michigan's roster are from the Great Lakes State. Were any of them offered scholarships to play in East Lansing? How many of them view this game as a way to prove that they were wrongfully snubbed? The Broncos are 0-8 all-time versus the Spartans. However, Michigan State has never ventured to Kalamazoo for a game versus its western neighbors from the MAC. Could the guys in green be looking ahead to a highly publicized re-match against the top-five-ranked Ducks? Can the Broncos ride the enthusiasm of their fans to upset their big brother from the Big Ten?
Western Michigan will feed off the excitement of the home crowd through the first half. Terrell will test the Spartans' secondary early and often with passes to Davis and Braverman. Viewers should not be surprised to see the game tied or the Broncos with a slight lead after the first quarter or at halftime. In the second half, Michigan State's front seven will ramp up the pressure on Terrell, limiting his completions and forcing the Broncos into turnovers or punts. Meanwhile, Cook and the offense will continue to move the ball and pile up points.
Prediction: Michigan State 34, Western Michigan 16
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
Judge Richard Berman vacated the NFL's punishment of Tom Brady on Thursday, putting an end to our long national nightmare known as Deflategate, for now.
Brady is clear to start the Patriots' season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers next Thursday night, when the Pats will also raise the team's fourth Super Bowl banner at Gillette Stadium. However, Roger Goodell promised in a statement that the NFL would appeal the decision, so it's not like Deflategate will be buried for eternity with Judge Berman's ruling.
This hearing was never about whether or not Brady actually knew about, or had anything to do with, a ball deflating scheme. It was about whether or not the punishment process was fair to Brady, and Judge Berman found that it was not.
A closer look at the Judge's 40-page ruling shows three key areas he found unfair to Brady.
The first is that Brady had no notice of potential discipline for being "generally aware" of any wrongdoing. While this seems like the biggest technicality of the reasons, it's valid. Ted Wells told Brady he didn't need his phone, then the NFL turned around and hammered him for not providing it, making that one of the biggest red flags against him and confirming his guilt in the eyes of many.
But Judge Berman's bigger problem with notice was the NFL equating Brady's offense to that of steroid use. Judge Berman wrote, "the Award offers no scientific, empirical, or historical evidence of any comparability between Brady's alleged offense and steroid use."
The second area was completely tied to NFL lead council Jeff Pash. At the outset, the NFL tried to pretend this was an "independent" investigation, yet Pash was not only listed as "co-lead investigator" on the front of the Wells Report, he also had a chance to edit it. What exactly did he edit? We'll never know because Brady was given no access to question Pash about his involvement.
The third area also has to do with the access afforded Brady's legal team. Not only did the NFL not allow Pash to be questioned, they didn't allow any of the notes from the investigation to be reviewed. As the NFL saw it, they could put together The Wells Report however they wanted and everyone just needed to accept it as fact without the ability to review how they came to their conclusions.
While Ted Wells did an admirable job framing his report to paint a picture of guilt, the actual findings, scientific or otherwise, were all debatable and unclear, as often stated in the footnotes of the report. Judge Berman repeatedly pointed out all the qualifiers in The Wells Report that essentially said it seems like something was going on here, but we don't really have any proof of it.
Really, these three points only scratch the surface of how badly the NFL handled this entire thing. There's no mention of the repeated leaks from the NFL offices of blatant lies that could only paint a sinister picture of Brady.
There was the Chris Mortensen report that was allowed to set the tone of the entire ordeal. That was so damaging that many in the general public still believe "11 of the 12 Patriots balls were two PSI below the legal limit". In reality, the Patriots balls were on average two-one-hundredths lower than what the Ideal Gas Law said they should be, a statistically insignificant amount.
Then there's this report from NFL.com's Judy Battista, a blatant lie that never would've been outed if Judge Berman hadn't ordered the release of the appeal transcripts.
You can hate the Patriots and think they're the biggest cheaters in football history, but any way you slice it the NFL purposely spreading lies to tarnish their players like this is unacceptable on every level.
The NFL thought they had learned from their mistakes in past controversies. They wanted to leave no doubt this time, successfully evading Judge David Doty's court in Minnesota that had been player-friendly. They hand-picked this New York court and it backfired horribly on them, not because the Judge was a player's union shill, but because their handling of Deflategate was that much a farce.
Many saw Judge Berman's repeated hammering of the NFL's positions during the last month of hearings as a sign that he was just pushing for a settlement, but now it's clear he truly believed every point he challenged them on. His ruling reads like it was ripped directly from the Patriots' "Wells Report Context" website.
We have not heard the end of Deflategate, at the very least the Patriots still have to surrender picks in both the 2016 (first-rounder) and 2017 (fourth-rounder) drafts, and who knows how the NFL's appeal will unfold. But what is clear is that the NFL once again completely mishandled a case of discipline and tarnished the legacy of one of their best players in the process.
Commissioner Goodell might've burned some important bridges with this one as well, at least losing the faith of one of the league's most influential owners, Robert Kraft. Many of the other NFL owners continue to have their heads buried in the sand, but hopefully this episode wakes them up to how their league is really being run.
Thursday’s season opener for the Blue Devils is a rematch of last season’s 47-13 victory over the inexperienced and troubled Tulane Green Wave. Head coach David Cutcliffe, the man solely responsible for turning around the once downtrodden Duke program, has the team primed for yet another bowl appearance. An expected Week 1 victory over Tulane is Cutcliffe’s chance to show the rest of the ACC that his team is still riding the momentum of a 7-5 campaign last season that saw the Blue Devils win four straight games twice, including an overtime victory against Pittsburgh and a road victory against Georgia Tech.
Though Tulane couldn’t overcome early turnover struggles against the Blue Devils in last season’s matchup, they were able to put up nearly 400 yards of total offense, with 28 total first downs. Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said of Lee’s performance against Duke last season, "[Lee] didn't know what he was doing half the time, and then the receivers didn't know what they were doing the other half.” But Johnson did add that Lee is, "[doing] so much better" heading into the 2015 season-opening rematch.
Duke at Tulane
Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. EST (Thursday)
TV Channel: CBSSN
Spread: Duke -7, o/u 51
Three Things To Watch For
1. Tulane’s Three-Headed Rushing Attack
Tulane returns speedster Sherman Badie, who rushed for 688 yards at 5.7 YPC last season, including three rushes of 70-yards or more. They also return power-back Lazedrick Thompson, who ran for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Dontrell Hilliard, arguably the most unheralded tailback in the entire conference, also returns to assist in blocking and receiving out of the backfield. With Duke only returning one lone starter from their front-six (base 4-2-5 defense) expect Tulane to use ground-and-pound early and often to set the tone for redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee to ensure he doesn’t endure the same struggles as last season, throwing three interceptions.
2. Duke’s Quarterback
When David Cutcliffe took over the Duke program in 2008, he inherited an awful team with little talent. He turned that roster into a team looking to make it to a second consecutive bowl game, and has had the likes of Sean Renfree (Atlanta Falcons) and Anthony Boone lead his team under center during his tenure.
The 2015 quarterback outlook is much more bleak than in recent history, with junior Thomas Sirk starting under center in Week 1. Sirk emerged as the Blue Devils’ best passer during spring camp, and has been heralded as being “physically gifted” with raw throwing ability. As Tulane expects to do, look for Duke to also use their ground game early to set the tone for their inexperienced quarterback. Sirk will be working with an offensive line that boasts three returning starters including seniors Lucas Patrick at left guard and Matt Skura at center. Shaquille Powell returns at running back as the team’s dual-threat back, with the ability to pound the ball between the tackles and bust it outside for big gains.
3. Tulane Quarterback Tanner Lee
As mentioned earlier, Lee struggled last season against Duke, throwing three interceptions. His outlook for Week 1’s game doesn’t look all too great, as Duke returns their entire secondary including senior safety Jeremy Cash. Lee went 14 of 35 for 160 yards and three picks last year, but with an entire offseason as the known starter and four returning offensive lineman, Lee could find the ability to move the ball thoroughly with a short and efficient passing game — a matchup that favors Tulane against an inexperienced duke front-six.
Duke has just too much defensive firepower for Tulane to overcome. With their entire starting secondary returning, and already having Lee’s number from last season’s matchup, Duke shouldn’t find much trouble against the redshirt sophomore who threw 14 total interceptions last season.
Prediction: Duke 31, Tulane 14
— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.
Evidently none of us know Bo.
Former NFL star Bo Jackson makes other football legends do some strange things in order to watch the College Football Playoff at his house. AT&T and Jackson team up to put Doug Flutie, Hershel Walker, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Roger Stauback, Steve Young, Desmond Howard, Rocket Ismail, Ron Dayne, and Danny Kannell all to the test.
It'll be exciting to see who ultimately wins but with hilarious commercials like this I think we're all winners here.
College football is back, and the competition off the field is nearly as heated as the competition on game day.
The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Think you’re up for taking on our experts every week? Think you can beat the writers and editors each week? Join our weekly pick ‘em game and compete for tons of cool prizes.
Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:
North Carolina vs. South Carolina (Charlotte)
Both teams need to re-boot their defenses under new coordinators. South Carolina has the stiffer test in the opener against Marquise Williams.
Fox’s Prediction: North Carolina 28–21
WKU at Vanderbilt
Western Kentucky put up points on just about everyone last season. Derek Mason’s life won’t get any easier if his first game at DC is a showcase for WKU QB Brandon Doughty.
Fox’s Prediction: WKU 35–21
Michigan at Utah
Jim Harbaugh may have won the offseason, but he’s going to need solid offensive line play to win his debut at Michigan. That’s been in short supply.
Fox’s Prediction: Utah 24–21
TCU at Minnesota
Trevone Boykin’s Heisman bid gets an early test in a rematch against the standout Minnesota secondary.
Fox’s Prediction: TCU 28–14
Baylor at SMU
A neat game for head coaches who worked their way from Texas high schools to being offensive masterminds. Unfortunately, it won’t be close.
Fox’s Prediction: Baylor 56–14
Washington at Boise State
Washington’s defense is rebuilding. So is Boise State’s backfield. I’ll throw my lot in with the Broncos.
Fox’s Prediction: Boise State 35–28
Stanford at Northwestern
Stanford will have a lopsided advantage in the trenches and has the more experienced quarterback. The Wildcats could go 0-for-the-Bay Area the last two openers.
Fox’s Prediction: Stanford 28–21
BYU at Nebraska
Nebraska’s 29-game season-opener winning streak might end if we see the same Taysom Hill we saw at the start of last season.
Fox’s Prediction: BYU 28–24
Louisville vs. Auburn (Atlanta)
Jeremy Johnson might be the most hyped first-year starting quarterback in a preseason since Tim Tebow. Facing Louisville in an opener is an interesting test.
Fox’s Prediction: Auburn 28–21
Penn State at Temple
Christian Hackenberg and P.J. Walker combined for six interceptions in this game last year. This game has to be better, right?
Fox’s Prediction: Penn State 24–14
Virginia at UCLA
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen’s first start comes against a team rebuilding the pass rush.
Fox’s Prediction: UCLA 35–21
Bowling Green vs. Tennessee (Nashville)
Can Tennessee live up to the hype? The Volunteers might have to play through some nerves as they start the season.
Fox’s Prediction: Tennessee 35–17
Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (Houston)
This game could set up as a shootout. Arizona State will be the team that can make the critical stop or force the crucial turnover.
Fox’s Prediction: Arizona State 35–28
New Mexico State at Florida
Treon Harris is a surprise starting quarterback for new Gators coach Jim McElwain. Can he hang onto the job?
Fox’s Prediction: Florida 49–14
Texas at Notre Dame
Expect some nasty defense in this one. Notre Dame has the experience on defense and a functional offense, making this an easy pick for the Irish.
Fox’s Prediction: Notre Dame 24–10
Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Arlington)
Wisconsin’s normally stout offensive line is a question this year. Alabama will have a major edge.
Fox’s Prediction: Alabama 31–14
Texas State at Florida State
FSU won’t have much trouble, but Everett Golson’s progress will be worth watching.
Fox’s Prediction: Florida State 41–10
Mississippi State at Southern Miss
Mississippi State will go as far as Dak Prescott can take the Bulldogs.
Fox’s Prediction: Mississippi State 28–10
Colorado at Hawaii
This is actually an interesting late-night game. Well-traveled USC transfer Max Wittek might give the Warriors a chance, and those late games at Hawaii are always tricky.
Fox’s Prediction: Colorado 28–21
Ohio State at Virginia Tech
The Buckeyes will be better prepared for anything Bud Foster throws at them this time around.
Fox’s Prediction: Ohio State 28–14
Tom Brady will start for the Patriots, and his four-game suspension is no more. As one can imagine, that ruffled some feathers around the NFL.
One person who didn't appreciate the decision at all was former NFLer, Eddie George. During an appearance on "The Dan Patrick Show," George went on to call Brady a "cheater" and that the Patriots are "above the law."
Some other players put their two cents on the untouchable Brady as well.
Tom Brady out here like https://t.co/WHxTJrm2BJ— Golden Tate (@ShowtimeTate) September 3, 2015
Lesson learned from Tom Brady appeal....Anytime anyone wants to see your phone & it might incriminate you.....BREAK THAT $%^&— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) September 3, 2015
Tom Brady may be the only person who could win versus the NFL in court. Those damn ball boys messing with PSI for their own personal gain— Scott Shanle (@scottshanle) September 3, 2015
Here's Blake Griffin, because he is never one to shy away from controversy that doesn't involve him.
Great day for Tom Brady but I feel really bad for that Dom Grady guy that was gonna start in his place. Stay ready, Dom. Be a professional.— Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin32) September 3, 2015
The 2015 college football season officially begins on Thursday, Sept. 3 and it's time to put aside the preseason predictions and pick the upcoming slate of action. The Week 1 schedule starts with a neutral site affair between North Carolina and South Carolina in Charlotte, and the opening night action concludes in Hawaii as the Rainbow Warriors host Colorado.
Several marquee games dot the schedule for Week 1, including Texas A&M-Arizona State, Louisville-Auburn, Boise State-Washington and Virginia Tech-Ohio State on Monday night.
Each week, Athlon Sports’ editors will pick every game in the FBS ranks. Follow us on Twitter: (@AthlonSports)
Conference Predictions for Week 1
College Football Week 1 Predictions
Okla. State at
Stony Brook at
Alcorn State at
Southern Utah at
N. Hampshire at
UC Davis at
Ab. Christian at
Michigan State at
Rhode Island at
Weber State at
Kent State at
Norfolk State at
Illinois State at
South Dakota State at
UT Martin at
Youngstown State at
Portland State at
Old Dominion at
Penn State at
Morgan State at
Southern Illinois at
SE Missouri State at
Savannah State at
North Dakota at
Grambling State at
Gardner Webb at
UL Lafayette at
Arizona State vs.
Florida A&M at
Jackson State at
Alabama A&M at
Missouri State at
South Dakota at
Georgia Southern at
McNeese State at
Texas State at
Northern Iowa at
E. Washington at
Tennessee Tech at
Miss. Valley State at
San Diego at
Miss. State at
Arkansas State at
Ohio State at
The sting of two losses to close an otherwise dream 2014 season left members of the Arizona football team with a lingering, bad taste in the offseason. The Wildcats finally get a chaser with kickoff of the 2015 campaign Thursday at Arizona Stadium.
Arizona opens with the final leg of a three-game series against fledgling Conference USA program, UTSA. The Wildcats won the first big in 2013, but had to sweat out a 26-23 nail-biter last September in San Antonio. Their season launched into the stratosphere from there, while the Roadrunners faded to a 4-8 finish — the worst mark in the program's very brief history.
Last season's UTSA roster was among the most veteran in college football. The first wave of recruits in program history departed, making the 2015 edition of Roadrunner football especially young. Head coach Larry Coker is starting nine new players on offense and eight on defense.
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was in a similar position last year, starting a bevy of youngsters. Pac-12 Networks' J.B. Long astutely noted just how young on Twitter.
Last season, @ArizonaFBall had 44 TDs scored by FRs & SOPHs (72% of team TDs). 50 FBS teams scored fewer than 44 touchdowns total in 2014.— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) September 1, 2015
If the Wildcats' inexperience showed against the veteran savvy of UTSA last year, the roles are reversed this time around.
UTSA at Arizona
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Arizona -31.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Anu Solomon A Year Older
Chief among the new starters in the Arizona lineup last season was quarterback Anu Solomon. Entering his redshirt sophomore campaign, Solomon is the first two-year starter Rodriguez has had since arrival in 2012. Another year more familiar with the system and another year wiser have set high expectations for the quarterback.
Thursday is the nation's first look at Solomon with another eight months of refinement. For Solomon, it's his first chance to exorcize the bad memory of taking a sack just yards from the goal line and Arizona driving late in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State. Expect the now-veteran Solomon to take out his frustrations on UTSA early and often.
2. DaVonte' Neal's Defensive Transition
Former 5-star recruit and Notre Dame transfer Neal was effective in Arizona's deep wide receiving corps, catching 27 passes for 214 yards, but hardly a standout. To make a bigger impact, Neal went to the Arizona coaching staff with a pitch: Put him on a defense, Rodriguez said Neal asked. So far, the coach is loving the idea.
"It's been a really good move for him," Rodriguez said, adding that Neal's "energy" brought a needed element to the Wildcat secondary.
Arizona needs that energy to translate into big plays. The Wildcats lost several key contributors in the secondary, including Jourdan Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. Neal takes over a cornerback spot capably manned by Jonathan McKnight for the duration of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's tenure at Arizona.
3. Scooby Snacks
The Arizona sports information department launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for linebacker Scooby Wright last season, which included weekly emails to remind awards voters to watch for #ScoobySnacks. Wright enters 2015 in that rare position as a defense-only player with a legitimate Heisman buzz, but he'll have to replicate his monster numbers from a year ago to remain in the conversation.
If all goes according to plan for the Wildcats Thursday, Wright won't have to play long. That means packing as many Scooby Snacks — those are tackles, tackles for a loss, sacks and forced fumbles, by the way — in early as he can.
Arizona and UTSA are in much different positions than when they met a year ago. Coker is overseeing his first rebuild after the initial building project, while Rodriguez has the Wildcats positioned to be a player on the national landscape.
Solomon's first pass against the Roadrunners last year went more than 80 yards for a touchdown. It was the last time the quarterback threw a score on the night. Expect him to do much more damage against a completely new secondary, and with the Wildcats returning one of the deepest receiving corps in college football. The counter-punch of running back Nick Wilson, who rushed for 174 yards on the Roadrunners last season, should sufficiently stagger UTSA.
Prediction: Arizona 52, UTSA 14
One thing remains in Utah State's ascension as a football program. The Aggies want to finish out a season as conference champions. Given the level of talent and experience on both sides of the ball, Utah State should pose a major threat to Boise State's continued domination of the Mountain West Conference during the 2015 season.
Utah State and head coach Matt Wells get to enjoy a rare season opener at home when it hosts Southern Utah on Thursday. This is the fourth game in the series between the two in-state foes. USU won all three previous meetings including, most recently, a 34-3 victory in 2012 — which, ironically, was also the most recent home season opener for the Aggies.
Southern Utah at Utah State
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Three Things to Watch
1. Keeton at the reins again
It seems like ages ago since Chuckie Keeton was tormenting opposing defenses with his electrifying play. The senior quarterback missed parts of the last two seasons because of knee injuries and returned this year after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. When he is fully healthy, Keeton can help the Aggies light up the scoreboard in a hurry. Southern Utah knows it all too well. Keeton completed 22 of 25 passes for 304 yards to help Utah State beat the Thunderbirds in 2012. He is one of just three active FBS quarterbacks who hold their school's passing record. Keeton set the USU record in 2012 when he passed for 3,373 yards.
2. Defensive domination
Utah State posted a 10-win season for just the second time in school history in 2014. Defense played a major role in making it happen. The Aggies had the 12th-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing just 19.7 points per game. USU also led the Mountain West in both sacks (3.57 per game) and rushing defense (130.7 yards per game). The Aggies have forced at least one turnover in 34 of their last 37 games. Odds are good that Utah State can keep the defensive engine humming in 2015. Several key defensive playmakers return — led by linebackers Nick Vigil and Kyler Fackrell.
3. Finding balance
Southern Utah is looking for more offensive balance after featuring a pass-heavy attack last season. Senior quarterback Ammon Olsen is coming off a season where he passed for 3,049 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 63.3 percent of his passes. The running game was quite dismal in comparison and improving it has been a point of emphasis this offseason. The T-Birds averaged just 104 rushing yards per game in 2014 less than half of what their opponents generated per contest.
Southern Utah has pulled off upsets over FBS opponents in recent seasons, beating UNLV in 2011 and South Alabama in 2013. Playing a team like Utah State is a whole different animal. The Aggies are poised to be one of the nation's best all-around defensive teams again in 2015. Paired with a healthy Keeton directing the offense, it adds up to what should be an easy home victory for USU to kickoff a new season.
Prediction: Utah State 38, Southern Utah 10
— Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
While The Suspension Bowl featuring BYU and Nebraska is going to be handicapped due to several members of both teams on the sideline, the Cougars and Cornhuskers aren’t left entirely wanting for talent.
How defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s first set of Blackshirts handle Taysom Hill likely determines whether or not the people of Lincoln go home happy.
Mistakes always happen during the first game of the season, but these five Big Red defenders can’t make too many for the Huskers to win the day.
1. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins
Arguably the best player on Nebraska’s defense (if not the team), Collins isn't just only one of the most important players when it comes to stopping Hill. He’s also the least likely to be intimidated by any Cougar offensive lineman. He’s not referred to as “Baby Suh” by his teammates for nothing.
2. Defensive Tackle Vincent Valentine
Next to Collins is his partner in crime, “Big Vince.” These two form one of the best defensive tandems in the Big Ten conference and will be critical in defining both defensive success and how the team performs overall. Valentine will aid Collins in attempting to eat through Hill’s protection and forcing him to the outside.
3. Taysom Hill’s Spy
Whoever this individual is, they need to go into this game accepting the fact that botches will happen and yards will be given up. It’s all about shaking off big plays and trusting the back seven once Hill gets to the second level.
The Huskers do have a quality veteran in linebacker Josh Banderas. However, youngsters such as Dedrick Young and Tyrin Ferguson will get plenty of snaps and going against Hill is no easy way to start your college football career.
4. Safety Nate Gerry
A cuddly safety known as “Bane” to his friends, Gerry is no stranger to interceptions, tackles for a loss and forced fumbles. His role will likely be that of turning Hill’s tall and talented receivers black and blue underneath their pads.
5. The Cornerback Opposite Daniel Davie
This player is as vital as Hill’s spy. Thanks to Jonathan Rose's suspension, this looks to be Josh Kalu. No. 10 is also Nebraska's starting nickel back, so we may see a non-Blackshirt in redshirt freshman Trai Mosley get some snaps as well.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Cavanaugh is founder of Eightlaces.com, a site devoted to in-depth Nebraska coverage. Be sure to follow Brandon on Twitter @eightlaces and Periscope (eightlaces), and like his Facebook page.
Scheduling a team from the FCS ranks is often seen as an easy win, unless that FCS squad happens to be North Dakota State. However, this is a rare occasion when the FCS visitors happen to be the favorites heading in. Villanova, one of the top teams in the FCS this fall, heads to Storrs, Conn., to take on the UConn Huskies. While this series may not have the intensity it carries in men’s basketball, there is some potential for some hostilities on Thursday night.
Villanova at Connecticut
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (Thursday)
TV Channel: SNY/ESPN3
Spread: UConn -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can UConn manage to pull away from Villanova?
One of the challenges of facing an FCS squad at the beginning of the season compared to later in the year is the FCS challenger is more fresh going in. That could pose a problem for UConn. Despite having a scholarship advantage, Villanova can still manage to linger around and strike late if the Huskies cannot put the Wildcats down.
2. Say hello to Villanova QB John Robertson
Those plugged into the Villanova program need no introduction to Robertson. He even has generated some NFL buzz based on his prolific numbers from last season. He should once again be the key for Villanova against the Huskies. Robertson may not be facing a great UConn defense, but it is the strength of UConn entering the new season. UConn returns seven starters on that side of the ball.
3. Looking for another FBS victory
A few years back Villanova opened the season with a win against Temple in Philadelphia. Villanova has not recorded a win over an FBS opponent since 2009, although the Wildcats have had a couple of close calls. This may be Villanova’s best shot to pick up another FBS victory unless UConn figures anything out on offense.
Andy Talley has been doing this for a long time at Villanova, and this may be one of his best teams outside of his national championship squad from a few years back. Villanova should enter this game feeling good about the chances of returning to the Main Line with a win, but it must protect the football and cash in on red zone opportunities. They may not come often, but they will have enough of them to score the win.
Prediction: Villanova 23, UConn 20
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.